Strategy vs. Tactics in Dodgeball

Sam Wilson
Mar 6, 2019 · 4 min read

A seasoned dodgeball team isn’t a simple sum of their members’ dodging and throwing abilities. Every week in my league I witness these very athletic dodgeball teams getting casually wrecked by what appears to be a board game collectors group. As it turns out, dodgeball shares a lot with board games like chess, so maybe they are onto something.

Tactics improve players

Tactics in dodgeball are “tips” actionable for a single person. Examples of tactics could be “aim at the thighs or “only catch what you can’t dodge”. Internalizing tactics reduces your mental load which ultimately improves your reaction time.

Strategies level-up teams

A strategy requires team-wide understanding and participation to work. Strategies operate between players. You can see that in play when you watch what others teams do. Here are some strategic ideas I’d like to explore.

  • Ball control
  • Offense is timing
  • Defense is disrupting timing
  • Dodgeball match phases

On Ball Control

Having ball control is having the majority of balls on your team’s side. Ball control is the currency that wins games. As a team, you want to employ certain tactics to protect or regain ball control as much as possible.

  • In a standoff, don’t throw your balls too early nor too late. If you throw early, it’s like handing them a large number with which they can multiply their attack. If you wait too late in the countdown, your throw will be bad with less time to consider counter attacks.
  • When being thrown at, the ball often bounces off the wall behind you. Stop that ball. If you dodge from the corners, it’s harder for them to achieve that bounce back.
  • If you hold your team’s last ball, know that you should use it to to disrupt your attacker’s timing. Don’t wait until they’ve thrown at your undefended friends, then try to counter. Disrupting their timing is harder but strategically it multiplies your efficacy.
  • In the opening rush, you want at least half the balls. The first volley should produce a material advantage. Advantage begets advantage, so pick a specialist who rushes and another gunner who protects this rusher.

Offense is Timing

In dodgeball, offense is timing and defense is disrupting timing — Mike Moffatt

Throwing together makes every thrower in the attack harder to catch and harder to dodge. Throwing alone makes you far easier to read and to dodge. Well-timed attacks melt dodging tactics. Once your team’s timing is tight, play with staggering and fakes which complement the superpower of timing.

Defense is Disrupting Timing

If timing is the biggest multiplier of offensive power, then disrupting your opponents timing is the biggest divider of that power.

In most situations where you have a ball, it’s low-risk and high-reward to use fakes to learn your opponent’s intent. It’s not uncommon for a fake to cause someone to jump, sprawl-dodge, or turn around.

Match Phases

Finally I’d like to touch on the structure of a dodgeball match. It’s interesting what works well in the opening doesn’t necessarily work well in the ending phase. Chess is similar. You need to understand the unique properties of the opening, middle and end game phases to maximise yourselves.

Opening game: this is from the initial rush to when there are roughly 75% of the people left on the court. During opening game

  • Dodging is tougher as there is less room to move. Don’t step in front of each other. What is good for you may be terrible for your neighbors.
  • Your best attackers need to be very careful in the opening. We need these people in the middle and end games in order to win, so don’t bring them out into the center too early. Even if you are Leeroy Jenkins, getting involved in a messy melee is bad chess. Said attacker should only be participating in attacks where you have near-total ball control.

Middlegame: begins when around 75% of players are on floor and ends when roughly 25% of players remain. Middlegame is where most games are won or lost.

  • Your best attackers should have survived the opening, because we need them here. Whenever your team has ball control, you are in a better position now to convert timing into gains.
  • With less resources to prevent rebounds off the back wall, ball control becomes harder. Use the geometry of the court to regain ball control: draw your opponent’s throws into the corners such that they bounce into your team’s offsides.
  • To keep the ball control wave going in the middle game, throw as hard and flush with the back wall as you can.

Endgame: only a handful of players remain, bad decisions are harder to recover from. Use what remaining advantage you have to create imbalances in your favor.

  • If you are against someone without a lot of experience, tempt them into overthrowing their last ball, giving you sweet ball control.
  • In the endgame, people like to hang out near the back and move to the front only to throw. Your best chance of getting them out is to counter throw them as they are running backwards to the rear edge.
  • Conserve your energy. If you are last standing facing several (e.g. three people), treat it like 3 games of 1-on-1. The faster you counter attack their best remaining player, the more energy you’ll save.

Conclusion

Tactics win exchanges; strategies win seasons. There are many other cool strategic ideas which your team will just arrive upon through experience. Draw inspiration from deterministic games (in my case, chess) to gain insights into the bigger picture. Oh, and don’t stop working on your throwing and dodging because that’s super important too.

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